Monday, January 18, 2010

Smores Brownies

My good friend Cara loves smores.  So much so that, the last time she came to visit, we made smores in the tiny kitchen of the apartment I lived in.  This was also my first experience with Sterno, but that's a story for a different day.  When making smores inside, I generally prefer to toast marshmallows over the coil of a hot stove because I don't like burned marshmallows.  Cara, on the other hand, totally enjoys the crispy texture of a blackened marshmallow. *Shudder* I haven't seen her since then, and that's a downer.

Here we are at her wedding two years ago...

Looks like a fun group, right?  We have such good times when we're all together and so I have decided that she and her lovely husband, The Daryl, should come see me. As a method of enticing her to visit again, I decided to make some sort of smores dessert.  I looked and looked and saw so many different methods of combining chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker that my head began to spin just a little bit.  I saw these two recipes on Tasty Kitchen and decided that, by combining the two, I would have a winner.

For the crust:
Take one package of graham crackers and crush them up.  I used the Mix'n'Chop to do this, I think you know how I feel about it already.  Add 1/2 stick of melted butter to the graham cracker crumbs and line the bottom of your brownie pan (I used a 9x12 glass pan) with them.  Bake at 350 for 5 to 8 minutes. 

For the brownies:
¾ Cups Shortening (I used butter)
1-⅓ Cup Sugar
3 Eggs
1-⅓ Cup Flour
½ teaspoons Baking Powder
2 Tablespoons Cocoa
⅓ teaspoons Salt
1-½ teaspoon Vanilla
1 Cup Chocolate Chunks

Mix the brownie ingredients (shortening, sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder, cocoa, salt and vanilla) in the order given. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes.

Take brownies out of the oven and cover with marshmallows and chocolate chunks. The marshmallows will get puffy, so they don’t have to touch each other, but you do want the brownie covered. Put back in the oven for 3 minutes or until a toothpick/cake tester comes out clean.

In the future I'll probably just line the bottom of the pan with graham crackers.  I didn't much care for the crust, that might have something to do with how I underbaked the crust and it totally moved around when I was putting the brownie batter in the pan but we won't talk about that right now.  I will also be sure to add the chocolate chunks to the top like she suggested in the original recipe.  This version was really good, but I think those two changes would have made these AMAZING.  For serious.  So Cara, if you're reading this, make a trip back.  I promise it'll be worth it!!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Strawberry Banana Streusel Muffins

It's difficult for me to imagine not eating breakfast in the morning; I just can't skip it.  I've been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but that's not the entire reason I need to have a meal when I wake up...  For some reason, I get irrational and a little crazy when I don't eat regularly.  I'm aware that this makes me a weirdo, but I have heard of other people with similar issues, and regardless of that, it really can't be helped.  The only way to avoid the crazy is for me to eat at regular intervals.

Since I'm normally running crazy late in the morning, I've been eating breakfast bars along with my morning coffee.  These are a heck of a lot tastier and, since they contain fruit, I convinced myself that they're actually healthy.  I really like this recipe because it comes together really easily and makes just enough batter for 12 perfectly sized muffins.  Normally the yield count is wildly inaccurate for me, apparently I fill muffin cups too high, but this one is dead on.

This also marks the first time I was able to put together a streusel that struck the proper balance between sugary goodness and crumbly deliciousness.  My previous attempt involved a food processor and it was not pretty.  My suggestion to you, if you're making streusel and don't happen to have a pastry blender and don't want to use a fork or knife, is to get one of these.  I got mine for Christmas last year and have used it to crush candy canes, mash bananas, blend streusel ingredients, and all sorts of other things (not all at the same time of course). So buy one, if you've got the space in your kitchen, because it'll make your life so much easier.  Promise!

Strawberry Banana Muffins
1 1/2 Cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 Cup sugar
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 Cup buttermilk (I used a tablespoon of lemon juice in enough milk to make 1/2 a cup)
1 egg
2/3 Cup (about 2) mashed bananas
5 or 6 strawberries, washed and cut into small-ish pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla

Banana Streusel Topping
1/2 Cup flour
1/3 Cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons shortening (I substituted butter and it worked fine)
1 Tablespoon mashed banana

Preheat oven to 350. Grease or line a muffin tin with paper liners.

While the oven is preheating, make your topping: Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a small bowl.  Cut shortening (or butter) into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in the mashed banana and set aside.

For the batter: Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  In a large bowl whisk together sugar, vegetable oil, buttermilk, egg, bananas, strawberries, and vanilla.  Pour flour mixture into banana mixture and stir until batter is just combined.  Try to stir this as little as possible or your muffins will be super dense and not really good.  Remember that scene in Charlie's Angels (the new one) where Lucy Liu's character brings in muffins and they start throwing them at each other because they're so hard?  She stirred too much, guaranteed. 

Fill the muffin tins about 2/3 full with batter and top with the crumb mixture, I had plenty of streusel leftover but I'll figure out what to do with that later.

Bake for 18-21 minutes or, if you've got a possessed oven like I do, until a tester comes out clean and the muffins spring back when gently touched.

My honest opinion is that these were ok, nothing terribly special.  I've got a muffin recipe that includes honey and I think I like it better; definitely worth trying with the strawberries and bananas!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Oatmeal Cookies

They're gone, the holidays are over.  I've found it difficult to get back in to the routine of going to work and being productive.  There's just something about the holidays and not working a full five-day week in the office until the end of January that really messes with my ability to concentrate.  Funny how that happens.  Anyway, the scatterbrain even extended into deciding what to bake, that never happens to me! Finally, on Thursday, inspiration struck.

You see, after every holiday the candy that goes along with it is put on sale.  I'm not so much a sucker for candy corn after Halloween, or Necco hearts after Valentine's Day, but after Christmas they put M&Ms on clearance!  Who doesn't love that kind of thing?!  Anyway, I bought three different kinds of M&Ms (dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and mint) for half price, then there was a ton of Christmas candy, and even marshmallows left over from the holiday festivities.  The endless possibilities flooded my brain and suddenly it was Wednesday night and I still hadn't made a decision.

For some reason, after getting an H1N1 immunization (it was the nose thing instead of a shot, free and I didn't even have to wait in line so I figured it would be a good use of an afternoon), I felt inspired.  I would make oatmeal cookies with various mix-ins.  I knew I could use the rest of the toffee bits from the chocolate cake cookies but wanted to have another option, just in case.  I myself have yet to decide whether or not I like toffee, so people should have options.  "What people?", you ask?  I don't know what people really, since it's not like I bake for a demanding audience, but just in case someone was picky?  I really enjoy the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies at Potbelly, but didn't have any chocolate chips at the house so I substituted my discounted M&Ms (don't judge).  The substitution sparked some discussion because I wasn't sure if the candy shell would interfere with the texture of the cookies.  I honestly don't know why I worry about these things, it's a stupid cookie, but I'm weird like that.

I used the oatmeal cookie recipe in my Baking Bible.  Seriously, that's the title of the book.  It's pretty amazing and for the life of me, I can't find any more copies of it. It's part of a series of "bibles" that Barnes and Noble carried for a while and, thanks to my working at a B&N College for far too many years, I was able to snag one for a ridiculous deal several years ago. 

1 1/4 Cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 Cup granulated sugar
3/4 Cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Cups quick or old fashioned oats
Mix-ins: I used about half a bag of M&Ms for half of the dough and about 1/3 of a bag of toffee chips for the other half.

Preheat oven to 375. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside.

  In a large mixing bowl beat butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla until combined.

Gradually beat in the flour mixture (rather pretty, isn't it?). 

Stir in oats and mix-ins.  Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 7-8 minutes for chewy cookies, or 9-10 minutes for crispy cookies.  Or, if you have a crazy oven like mine, check the cookies after 6 minutes and remove them from the oven only to find that they are crispy.  Let cool on cookie sheets for 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. 

These ended up being pretty good, even Anna wasn't terribly opposed to them and she said she's not generally a fan of oatmeal in cookies.  I think she may be converting to a sweets lover, if only just a little bit.